Does an army officer's secret diary reveal new clues to Roswell?
Roswell: The First Witness follows the grandchildren of Major Jesse A Marcel, the first person on the scene of the Roswell crash in July 1947. His family believe Major Marcel was pressured by the US government to retract his original statement of what he discovered at the crash site and deny he ever saw evidence of a UFO. They possess Marcel’s diary, believed to contain clues about the truth of what happened at Roswell and new evidence of where the alien wreckage might still lie buried. The investigation is led by Ben Smith, a former CIA operative.
Sky HISTORY spoke to Ben Smith over zoom to talk about the series and what Jesse Marcel's diary might reveal about the Roswell incident.
Sky HISTORY: Who was Jesse Marcel and how did he become involved in the Roswell incident?
Ben Smith: Jesse Marcel was a member of the 509-bomber group and was the chief counterintelligence officer, in charge of security at the Roswell Army Air Force Base in 1947. Anytime there was a security event he would have been the guy to deal with that and orchestrate affairs on the base.
In 1947, the Army, Air Force Base, was contacted by a rancher, [William Ware] 'Mack' Brazel who said, 'there's a UFO or something strange out here,'. So, Marcel is the first military officer, out on the debris field, looking at this strange wreckage in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico.
Marcel initially described the debris as being ‘not of this earth’. What did he tell his family about the events of that day?
He said that he handled strange debris and the story was remarkably consistent, despite the growing popularity of aliens and alien contacts in popular culture, his story did not get crazier and more elaborate it stayed the same.
He was asked by his superior Colonel Blanchard, to pose with the tin foil weather balloon debris to put the UFO announcement that was made the day before to rest.
Whether that was to cover-up an alien crash or another top-secret programme that was important at the time, is the crux of the investigation. He also hinted that there's more there.
Marcel also left a diary. Why is it so significant?
If you're a historian, a primary document is what you do your PhD thesis on. It's what you need to establish authenticity and veracity.
Here we have a primary document that we can attest that from the chain of possession from Jesse Marcel to his son to his grandchildren. He passed it on to his children, among a few other documents - military records, a couple of household deeds - and this journal.
Right away you can see that it appears to be a military memory journal or pocketbook. It has some pretty strange characteristics. Strangest of all is right at the period of Roswell, August 1947, you see a marked shift in handwriting style which can indicate a lot of things from duress to mental stability to writing in code.
As an intelligence officer, he would have been trained in information security and some of that may have involved encryption. He was probably versed enough that if he had information to hide, that is how he would do it.
We took this journal to codebreaker and he attested to the fact that he sees clear signs of code. So, the journal becomes the crux of our investigation. We haven't answered all the questions, but we have answered some.
Some speculate the debris was from Project Mogul, a Top-Secret mobile balloon used to spy on the Soviets?
I not convinced. I think the mobile balloon theory may not be another deliberate cover story but I don't think that's the true story of what happened out there. I don't have a smoking gun about whether it's extra-terrestrial or not, but some of the facts suggest that the government still doesn't know or is not truthful about what happened.
That's why I'm hoping we get enough viewers to tune in because this investigation requires resources and the viewers are a part of that. The more viewers we get, the more resources we have to kind of chase every lead down the rabbit hole and put anything to rest. But we do come up with exciting evidence in later episodes that I think could put a nail in the coffin in one theory or another.
I think that if we made a concerted effort we might be able to find more evidence and more documentation about what was recovered and what was seen, and the reasons for the mobile balloon theory or the weather balloon theory.
At the end of the series, we uncover a fascinating piece of scientific data that shows there's probably something buried still under the soil. Is it a piece of a mobile balloon or is it extra-terrestrial? We'll find out but to do that, we need resources and time, lots of support.
What does your background as a CIA operative bring to the investigation?
I approach the investigation using my intelligence background and skills, and I'm happy with the truth being the truth I don't need to hide or discourage people from any particular narrative. I think that open-mindedness and willingness to embrace the extra-terrestrial but apply some real-world, current standards of information validation through a trained intelligence perspective, really adds to the story.
Hopefully, this leads viewers to understand the issue a little bit better rather than being carried away by a lot of different competing conspiracy theories over what happened.
Have attitudes towards UFOs investigations have changed over the years?
It is changing. We're seeing more acceptance in the public and more pressure on public officials to treat this seriously and see the public as an ally instead of an adversary.
We're going to see more interest in UFOs and more openness from the government. We're starting to see that already in major publications, including the New York Times. I spoke to Leslie Keane who broke many of the stories from the New York Times about the [Pentagon's declassified UFO] videos, and about the existence of government programme. More people are acknowledging that something strange is in our skies and the government will have to respond.
In the latest COVID relief package here in the US, there was a clause for release of UFO-related information. Just last week, the CIA declassified a bunch of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. We are seeing more willingness to open secrets to the public.
If there was a cover-up, how did the US government manage to keep it secret all this time?
I came at this initially very sceptical because governments can't keep secrets. Between the Snowden leaks and the Chelsea Manning leaks and in between all these Cold War leaks, super important programmes always leak. But then maybe they don't, because there are some interesting things probably still secret, still happening that haven't been exposed.
Now, part of the problem with 1947 is that the American national security regime is only in its infancy, the CIA is not even created at that point. For the first time, the US government has a technological superiority with the atomic bomb and it's building this regime to protect this super sensitive programme. I wouldn't say it reaches its, its peak until the mid-70s to compartment information securely (and never that securely).
Where those Roswell documents go, leaves room for them to disappear or to decay. It's certainly possible that a warehouse burned all the documents as the Air Force said happened in 1995. There's room for all of that because so much time has passed, and there weren't the same information controls as there are now.